Rugby Union: Sale in league with the devil

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THE boundaries between the two codes of rugby have acquired another kink that suggests that the cartographer's pen has slipped: a rugby league international coaching a leading union club.

Peter Tunks, the former Australian Test forward who coached Oldham until midway through last season, is preparing Sale's forwards for the rigours of the First Division of the Courage league.

Tunks says that both parties are enjoying the experiment. 'My job is to get hold of the forwards and toughen them up. There is a lot of work to be done. To describe the pack as fearsome at the moment would be the greatest overstatement.'

Tunks's last involvement with rugby union was almost 20 years ago when he played for New South Wales as a schoolboy, and he admits to knowing little about the game. 'But there is a lot that someone from a rugby league background can contribute, especially in the area of defence, about which they seem to know very little,' he said.

'In some cases, the level of strength isn't what you would expect from players at this level. They have been very receptive, though. Everyone there knows where I'm from and that my background is in rugby league, but they don't seem to care much as long as you know what you're on about.'

Tunks had a highly successful league career, mainly with the Sydney clubs, Souths and Canterbury, playing for Australia and later guesting in England for Leeds, Sheffield Eagles and Salford. Since leaving Oldham, he has been linked with several coaching jobs and was shortlisted for the post at Widnes this summer. 'This has been a chance to get back into the swing, even though it has been in a different sport, and it has been enjoyable and interesting.'

As a league professional who never played union as an adult, Tunks does not have to apply for reinstatement in order to assist a union club, and there is a prospect that the link could become a long- term one. Apart from his coaching role, newly-promoted Sale are keen to use Tunks's expertise in the sphere of player recruitment - another sign of the blurring distinctions in custom and practice between the two codes.

Alternatively, he might choose to return to Australia, but not before seeing whether his rugby league methods have had any beneficial effect on Sale's forwards in their opening games of the season.